As publicity launches go, it did not get as much news coverage as the organisers may have hoped. On Sunday 24th September the bereaved relatives of British servicemen and women killed in Iraq launched their new SPECTRE political party.
There was a short article in theScottish paper, the Herald, in the previous week that quoted Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in Iraq three years ago, explaining why they had launched the party: "We have called ourselves Spectre because we intend to hang over the government until they listen to us. We will definitely get votes and hopefully we can win some seats,"
Despite Mr Brierley’s optimism that SPECTRE may win parliamentary seats, the launch of SPECTRE did not even make the pages of the Morning Star, although they did find space to report the launching of a new political party by former Punk singer Captain Sensible. The only report I found of the launch event was in the Turkish newspaper, Sabah.
As I wrote before the launch, SPECTRE is being formed to pose the single question of the war at the ballot box, but will therefore presumably also be standing against other anti-war parties? The Green party? The Scottish Socialist party? Respect? This is further complicated by the fact that the political basis of SPECTRE is problematic. They say: “We would like to stress from the outset that we are not anti-military and we do indeed support our troops wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.”
Most left wing and peace movement activists will strongly disagree with the need to support the troops “wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.” With parachute regiment soldiers still at liberty despite their perpetrating a massacre on the streets of Derry in 1972, can we really be expected to support that statement? Left and progressive candidates cannot be expected to stand down in favour of candidates who are so uncritical of the role of the armed forces.
The choice of name seems eerily similar to RESPECT. In so far as RESPECT sought to be the political expression of the anti-war movement the very existence of SPECTRE suggests that RESPECT has failed in that objective. What is more the relatively right wing attitude of SPECTRE to the military illustrates the degree to which opposition to the war has not led to wider radicalisation. The only previous example of a political party based upon expressing the views of serving soldiers, sailors and airman, the Common Wealth, which won the 1943 Eddisbury by-election and the Chelmsford by-election in 1945, was an explicitly socialist party.
Will RESPECT be standing aside for SPECTE, and have the membership of Respect any opportunity to express a view on this? Is SPECTRE the electoral expression of the Military Families Against War, or is it a separate initiative? If it is part and parcel of the MFAW campaign, then the involvement of socialists like Andrew Burgin and Chris Nineham with MFAW sharply raises the question of what approach socialists should take to SPECTRE.
There is a difficulty in bringing this single issue campaign to the ballot box, where it inevitably compete with other political viewpoints and organisations that would otherwise be wholly sympathetic to the anti-war movement – even more so as these elections will be conducted under first past the post, and other organisations or parties may have candidates with better local standing that the bereaved families. By posing a single issue electoral challenge there is a danger that SPECTRE could actually prove divisive to the anti-war movement.